Written Answers. - Stolen Vehicles.

Ivan Yates

Question:

187 Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Finance if a full inquiry will be held into the circumstances whereby agricultural tractors were imported and stamped by the customs and excise authorities as being legally valid when in fact they were stolen in the United Kingdom, which is now resulting, further to a Garda inquiry in these vehicles being impounded at a huge financial loss to the farmers who purchased them; the way in which these vehicles were given legal importation papers at the point of import; and the compensation, if any, which will be available to the farmers and a person (details supplied) in County Wexford. [5120/00]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that vehicles brought into the State from within the European Union are not subject to Revenue controls or checks at the point of entry into the State. There is, however, an obligation to register any vehicle which is intended to be kept permanently in the State, except in the case of distributors or dealers who are specially authorised to hold unregistered vehicles pending sale.

The majority of used vehicles declared for registration are subject to some form of examination when they are declared for registration. The level of examination depends on the type of vehicle, the basis on which vehicle registration tax – VRT – is charged and the circumstances in which the vehicle is being registered. Such examinations focus on the responsibilities laid to the Revenue Commissioners, that is, the registration of vehicles and the collection of VRT. In the case of agricultural tractors, examinations are carried out on a selective basis only. The Deputy will appreciate that considerable inconvenience would be caused to farmers and machinery dealers alike if each and every used tractor was required to be transported to a vehicle registration office for physical examination prior to registration. Generally speaking, the particulars declared in relation to such vehicles are accepted at face value at the time of registration, unless the official concerned has reason to doubt the veracity of the particulars declared or the bona fides of the transaction. The process of registration does not in itself provide total validation of the bona fides of any vehicle and the onus is on the particular purchaser at all times to apply the natural caution warranted in any serious financial transaction. The question of compensation does not, therefore, arise.

Information is received by the Revenue Commissioners from time to time with regard to stolen vehicles and is immediately circulated to all vehicle registration offices. No such information was received in this instance. Consequently, at the time the vehicles in question were declared for registration, there was no reason to suspect any irregularity. The declarations were accepted at face value and the vehicles were registered without examination. It has since been learned that these vehicles have been impounded by the Garda as part of an ongoing investigation into the sale in the State of a substantial number of tractors which have been stolen in the UK.